The Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder went to Ferguson and said "I'm the Attorney General but I'm also a black man," and "This Department of Justice stands with the people of Ferguson."
What does that mean? You would be forgiven for reading between the lines. Yes General Holder stands for law and (especially) order, but it appears to me the Attorney General is not going to accept a result of the Michael Brown shooting which holds that officer Darren Wilson was justified in firing the fatal shots.
Holder also told the people he met in Ferguson about personal incidents in which he felt he was being racially profiled. One incident was stop on the Jersey Turnpike when he was a college student. That would have been about forty years ago. Another incident involved a police stop when he and a friend were running in Georgetown, in Washington, D.C., to catch the start of a movie. Holder reminded his listeners that he was an Assistant United States Attorney at the time, a very respectable position, and not a black thug running away from a purse snatching or some other crime. That incident would have been at least three decades ago.
What do either incident have to do with the Ferguson situation? They are far removed in time, and as Holder himself admits, much progress in race relations and the relations between black people and police have made, in his word, "progress."
So what is the point of telling these stories? To say to people in Ferguson, "I have been targeted like you, I have suffered like you," as if there is a direct relationship between his experience decades ago and what happened in Ferguson a few days ago.
Holder is an important figure to black people. He is the first African American Attorney General of the United States, a close friend of the first African American President of the United States. By linking his long ago experience with a incendiary recent event, Holder is telling African Americans everywhere in this country that this is still a racist country that systematically oppresses black people.
He may deny he is telling black people they are justified to riot if there is not the outcome in this case that they (and he) want, but I think many black people will take his words as exactly that. He is sending the message that officer Darren Wilson is to be found guilty of murder or America will pay with riot, looting, and possibly even more deaths.
Holder is not the only one, by the way. Famed movie director Spike Lee told Anderson Cooper on CNN the following:
"I'm not saying that people should burn down stuff and riot and loot, but this is not the first time we've seen this. And I just hope that things will really blow up if the people aren't happy with the verdict of this upcoming trial."
Spike Lee hopes things "will really blow up" if Wilson is not charged with murder, or is put on trial for murder and acquitted.
I have seen this movie before.
In 1992 Sgt. Stacey Koon and other LAPD officers were acquitted in a state trial in the beating of Rodney King. Los Angeles exploded in riot. Fifty three people were left dead, a thousand buildings were burned, and the city suffered a billion dollars in damage.
Then the U.S. Department of Justice stepped in and charged the LAPD officers under federal law. Another trial was held and the cops were found guilty. The verdict was the only thing that prevented Rodney King Riot Part Two.
I know. I stood on a corner in the heavily black Crenshaw district waiting for the verdict on a tense Sunday morning wearing a kevlar vest. I was a correspondent reporting for NBC News that day, and we were waiting for the virtually inevitable riot. With me was a crew of three black men, cameraman, sound man, and microwave truck operator, all also in kevlar. The guilty verdict came in at the announced time, and you could feel the tension on the streets evaporate. The "community" got what it wanted, courtesy of the Federal Government. We were all greatly relieved to take off the vests and stand down.
But that's how it goes. If the state of Missouri does not mount, in Governor Nixon's words, a "vigorous prosecution", if it merely investigates and finds officer Wilson acted within the law, there will be riot, and in all probability not just in Ferguson.
We know that because important people like Spike Lee and Eric Holder have already lit the fuse. It may be a long fuse, and slow burning, but it's a fuse and you can see it sparking right now.
We also know officer Darren Wilson, the one beaten near unconscious by Michael Brown, and suffering smashed bones around one eye, will in all probability one day find himself in jail. That no matter the facts.
That's because if the state courts don't convict him, Eric Holder's Department of Justice will. Or, it will very publicly try.
After all, the Attorney General says his Department of Justice "stands with the people of Ferguson." He very publicly visited the Brown family, very publicly did not visit with or "stand with" officer Ferguson.
What else can that mean?
If his words and actions mean something else, Attorney General Holder should firmly and clearly say so.
Right now. Otherwise his message is being sent loud and clear and the rioters are listening.